By Leila Monteiro Lins | June 4, 2021
The documentary follows the journey of award-winning Brazilian photojournalist André Liohn. In more than 15 years of war coverage, he has witnessed immeasurable suffering and loss. Liohn begins to question his reasons for putting himself in danger, as well as to evaluate his role as a parent and the fine line between life and death.
Discover chatted with director Maria Carolina Telles at Hot Docs 2021
DISCOVER – How did the idea about this documentary come up?
Maria Carolina – During the collapse of the Arab Spring uprisings, I learned of war correspondents’ vulnerability and lack of safety in their work on the ground. Also, the assassination of James Foley by Isis, the rising of fake news and misinformation, and the threats faced by journalists under an extreme right-wing government in Brazil, made me develop deep concerns and raise questions about the dangerous information warfare around us.
I started to reflect on people who risk their lives and leave their family behind to cover the war and bring important facts to us. Vitor Knijnik, from Snack, and Sabrina Wagon, from Elo, shared with me the idea of developing a story with photojournalist Andre Liohn. We agreed to make this film independently.
DISCOVER – What did you learn about your father in telling Liohn’s story?
Maria Carolina – Liohn’s footage with his daughter inspired me to reflect on my own experience with my father. My co-director and scriptwriter, Aleksei Abib, and my editor, Pablo Pinheiro, helped me face and accept the pain of losing my father while following another father’s journey into his own fragility and anguish.
They helped me understand and translate my views about the cyclical life experience of a man, a father, a war photographer, and explore the layers of a multiple male experience. I reflected on the feminine and masculine roles in parenthood. The result is a beautiful, and ultimately brutal statement, on the male great adventure through a female perspective.
Andre Liohn at work
DISCOVER – Could you share some similarities between your father and Liohn’s experiences?
Maria Carolina – I was excited to share the beginning of this film’s production with my father but struggling to be strong during his final moments. He embraced the end of his life in a very elegant way. He gave me the strength to keep on going and even asked me to see some of Liohn’s footage. Some specific action sequences brought him right back to WWWII.
That war ended before he got to the frontlines, which was his only frustration in life. He was a happy man living a beautiful life surrounded by love and strong women like me, my daughter, my sister, and my mom. I was surprised and deeply touched to hear that.
This was a very intense period, deeply painful, but extremely important in my life. Aleksei wanted to include this genuine family connection in our film. I reflect on how fortunate my father was to have never seen the blood, the hate, and the smell of death in the warzones, as well as to live close to 100 years of age. I imagine he would be grateful and bless the work we done if he were still alive today.
DISCOVER – What thought-provoking issues surfaced in revealing the internal conflicts of a war photojournalist?
Maria Carolina – This film investigates the life, motives, conflicts, and perspectives of a war photojournalist, and surpasses the spheres of journalism. Information is a contemporary “weapon” to protect democracy in an era of massive misinformation. At a time of profound political and social crisis in Brazil, it is extremely important to invest in productions that investigate and are transparent about how information is produced. We present journalism as a tool for freedom, democracy, and peace.
Liohn leads us through a comprehensive understanding of the information battlefield. He also engages a broader public as a father, a son, and a man like many other men and women trying to figure out a way to overcome obstacles and survive.
We also talk about the risks faced by these professionals, as news organizations under corporate cost-cutting measures hire independent and less experienced journalists, while closing their foreign offices. Meanwhile, insurgents, citizens, and even soldiers have started using digital platforms to broadcast their own agendas and are less inclined to protect professional journalists in the field.
DISCOVER – What kind of reflections you hope the public make after watching the documentary?
Maria Carolina – Above all, this is an anti-war film. Instead of trying to see the war through a heroic point of view, we tried to convey anti-war messages through a non-combatant’s experience. I believe this film can make us pause and reflect more deeply on the war’s horrific nature, and the senselessness of it all. It is my humble homage to life, love, family, and peace. I would say this doc is a cautionary tale of survival.
The documentary premieres in the fall 2021.
Watch the clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5zc6mTiyxo
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